Iím a former newspaper reporter who now works for The Marshall Project, a not-for-profit journalism organization dedicated to covering criminal justice. Itís based in New York. I live in Seattle. Iím all about the frequent-flyer miles.
I used to work at The Seattle Times, where I won or shared in two Pulitzer Prizes, one for investigative reporting and the other for breaking news. Before that I worked at the Chicago Tribune. Before that I worked at papers in Newport News, Virginia; Anchorage, Alaska; New York City; Escondido, California; Twin Falls, Idaho; and Alamosa, Colorado. I met my wife in Twin Falls Ė me, night cops (3-11), her, copy desk (4Ėmidnight), town, small. Her options were few.
When time and publishers permit, I write books. Scoreboard, Baby, written with Nick Perry, won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for non-fiction. After we finished the book, Nick moved to New Zealand, 7,200 miles away.
Iíve been a Nieman Fellow at Harvard and the McGraw Professor of Writing at Princeton.
I write mostly about the law. At the Chicago Tribune I investigated misconduct by prosecutors, coerced confessions, and fault lines radiating through the systems of capital punishment in Illinois and Texas. In Seattle I delved into hundreds of illegally sealed court files and the community's complicity in protecting wayward athletes. In Idaho I wrote about a woman who mooned the police.
Sometimes, the work makes a difference. In Chicago, a death-penalty series with Steve Mills helped prompt the Illinois governor to suspend executions and empty Death Row. Five inmates profiled in that series were later freed; they were pardoned based on innocence or had the charges against them dropped.
At the Tribune, I crafted a set of queries that turned up 381 homicide convictions that had been reversed because prosecutors concealed evidence pointing to innocence or knowingly used false evidence. One query, entered into a legal database, was:
Date aft 1962 and (homicide or murder! or manslaughter) and (brady pre/ 3 maryland) or lexcite (373 U.S. 83) or ((napue pre/ 3 illinois) or lexcite (360 U.S. 264) or (giglio pre/ 3 united states) or lexcite (405 U.S. 150)) or ((use! / 3 perjur! or false) or (correct! / 3 perjur! or false) or (uncorrect! / 3 perjur! or false)).
Abby Mann, a movie producer and Academy Award-winning screenwriter, flirted with making a movie about the work that Steve and I did in Chicago on the death penalty. He invited us to a fancy hotel suite, turned on a tape recorder and said: Tell me how you did it. I told him: We pulled all of these records, file after file Ö we filled in all of these boxes on a hand-drawn spreadsheet, box after box Ö we tallied up all our findings, number after number Ö Mannís eyes glazed over. His mind drifted away. It drifted away to a place where reporters do gloriously cinematic things, like hold clandestine meetings with code-named sources in shadowy parking garages. The movie never got made. Had Mann stayed longer, I would have told him about my queries of legal databases. Maybe that would have made the difference.